Development is vital for reducing disaster risk, yet many current development models are unsustainable and are instead driving and creating disaster risks, for example, in the removal of natural storm-surge protection barriers in favour of beachfront property development. At the same time, disasters can destroy development gains, and many existing disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience approaches are not sufficiently contributing to social equity and sustainable development (IPCC, 2018; UNISDR, 2015). Significant and simultaneous progress towards both the Sendai Framework targets and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a complex challenge that requires work on many fronts with a diversity of disciplines and stakeholders. We argue that transformation is a legitimate and necessary pathway for moving from development patterns that increase, create or unfairly distribute risks, towards equitable, resilient and sustainable development outcomes for all.

Progress on DRR is often hampered by its failure to recognise how development processes can act as the root causes of disasters (Wisner et al., 2004). Increasingly, resilience is seen as the mechanism through which development and DRR can be integrated (Matyas and Pelling, 2015). Resilience theory invites systems analysis whereby resilience is a property describing the extent to which the functioning of the current system can be maintained and renewed over time, particularly in the face of shocks or slower-onset stresses. In the DRR context, resilience has been defined as “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions through risk management” (UNGA, 2016, p.22). The concept of resilience has a wide range of meanings from multiple fields of enquiry which is determining how resilience is conceptualized and applied in DRR policy and practice (Alexander, 2013; Kelman, 2018).

Transforming the relationship between development and disaster risk requires attending to the underlying drivers of risk, but also recognising that those risks have their foundations in the interplay between development and DRR trajectories (Thomalla et al., 2018a). Resilience by itself, however, is not enough. Questions of who benefits from resilience and under what circumstances (referred to as: resilience of what, and for whom?) bring additional complexity. Securing equitable outcomes and, in particular, ensuring that poor and/or marginalized groups benefit from development and DRR investments, requires challenging existing structures, power relations, vested interests, and dominant narratives that persist within systems and maintain and perpetuate poverty, inequality, and vulnerability (Lebel and Lebel, 2017; Matin et al., 2018; Thomalla et al., 2018b).